A new year will bring new faces to Minnesota’s Elko Speedway in 2016. As race fans and race teams gear up for the 51st season of racing at the high-banked 3/8-mile oval, the track has brought some familiar faces on board to help run race operations.
First, they hired former ARCA Midwest Tour President Tim Olson to oversee all race day operations, including everything from the pits and tower to marketing. Olson will also serve as the go to person for all drivers.
“I didn’t want to do it for selfish reasons, but I weighed all my options and kind of looked at it and thought if I didn’t, two or three years down the road, if something were to happen I’d probably kick myself in the backside for not wanting to help out and get involved,” said Olson.
Last year was the first year since Olson and his former partner, Steve Einhaus, sold the ARCA Midwest Tour. While Olson still delivers and helps with the tires for the tour, he admitted that he has missed the racing action. Getting back into the “hustle and bustle” is something Olson looks forward to.
“I’m really excited being back involved,” he said. “Last year I missed the hustle and bustle of all the setting stuff up, making sure everything got going and I needed more stuff to do. I’m one of those guys who wants a lot of things to do. I get bored if I’m not doing thing, so this was a perfect opportunity to be more involved again.”
One thing Olson hopes to carry over from his days with the Midwest Tour is the feeling of family. His goal is to have drivers compete hard on the track, but also have a feeling of comradery throughout the pits.
“Where everybody wants to help everybody,” said Olson. “You bring out that competitive blood, but at the end of the day I want everyone to feel welcome and everyone has that family touch per say.”
One person who will help Olson with that vision is new race director Jason Schneider. Schneider is a multi-time Elko Speedway track Champion and also brings with him a long racing resume that includes starts in the ASA National Tour and NASCAR Elite Series.
“Jason has a lot of respect at Elko Speedway and will be a good fit,” said Olson. “He wants to make sure the competitors all are getting a fair shake and calls from the tower are consistent.”
Elko Speedway had good car counts in 2015 and featured a handful of championship battles that came down to the wire. This is something Olson expects to see again in 2016 with even more growth for the car counts in each divisions.
“Just in watching Facebook and talking to competitors, I think the car count will go up,” said Olson. There’s been a great response to some of the changes and there are more people putting their cars back together to come out than I think than have in the past.”
Some of the changes are a direct reflection on the relationship Olson and Schneider plan to have with drivers. A few weeks ago the track held a driver’s sign-up to meet the drivers and also listen to concerns. During the meeting and throughout the offseason there has been an open dialogue and open communication between Olson and the drivers. He explained that he is taking into consideration changes and making those changes where applicable.
“We listened to what a lot of the concerns were or what they felt could use improvement,” said Olson. “We changed some stuff that we all agreed on. The response from us listening to them has been outstanding.”
Another change that will come this year is that both the Late Models and Big 8 cars will get four nights off throughout the season. This was an idea that was already put in motion before Olson came on board, but it is one he fully endorses.
“They will have some time to do some things with their families,” said Olson. “I think it’s a great deal. When they don’t have to be there every week, they get more excited about it.”
Elko Speedway has a test and tune set for May 21 before the season opener one week later on May 28.
-By Jana Wimmer, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @JWimm22
-Photo credit: Cricket Prints